Top 10 Travel Guide to Upstate New York's Finger Lakes Region

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The Finger Lakes Region in Upstate New York boasts so many things to do, it’s hard to know where to begin. I’d imagine most guides might start with wine, so I’ll start with what I love about this region the most: NATURE which includes the incredibly beautiful lakes in the region. Here, you have an opportunity to tap all the fun things you can do ON the lake, as well as around it, such as hiking and biking.

Since I grew up on an Adirondack lake, I spent more time ON the lake, largely driving a boat or being dragged in some capacity behind one. Below are top ten fun things to explore in the Finger Lakes Region, from water sports, boating and nature to food, wine, arts and culture.

Water Sports

From kayaking and canoeing to paddle boarding, tubing and waterskiing, there are plenty of options with so many lakes at your disposal. While we spent most of our time on Keuka Lake and Seneca Lake, there are activities on all of them if you have enough time to make your way around the whole Finger Lakes circuit. Below is taken of Keuka while a storm was a’ brewing where we took kayaks out with Keuka Watersports. I love the drama of the skies and the juxtaposition between the rich green trees and the bright colored boats as if it is they which bring life to the lake when the rain comes tumbling down.

A view of the lake right before a storm hit in the late afternoon.

Below, we are relaxing on the water…..paddle boarding is relatively new to me but after last year’s trip to Lake Placid and Mirror Lake, I fell in love with the tranquility and serenity it brings…

Above two shots courtesy of David Degolyer…

Finger Lakes Wineries

I had to move to wine fairly quickly after boating since it IS what the region is most known for, starting with Dr. Konstantin Frank who is known as the King of the Finger Lakes wine region. Their winery has been producing award-winning wines since 1962. Over fifty years ago, Dr. Frank ignited the “Vinifera Revolution,” a movement that forever changed the course of winemaking in the Finger Lakes and the U.S. Prior to his arrival in upstate New York in the 1950’s, the only grapes grown in the region were apparently French American hybrids and native labrusca.

Dr. Frank’s original vinifera plantings formed the backbone of the Finger Lakes’ wines and they produce Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and more. Their tasting room boasts stunning views of Keuka Lake from their outdoor balcony and is open year round from Monday through Sunday. Below, I’m breathing in the view on a hot August afternoon.

Glenora Wine Cellars in Dundee New York overlooks Seneca Lake and is roughly ten miles north of Watkins Glen on Route 14. Opened since 1977, it is the first winery to open on the lake and you can taste wine from the barrel while learning about the craft of winemaking. They offer exclusive reserve tasking as well where guests can sample limited released wines. On-site is also a 30 room inn which features private patios and balconies that overlook Seneca Lake and some rooms have whirlpool tubs and fire places. Fine dining is also available on the premises at Veraisons Restaurant, which features seasonal cuisine, local wines, beers and a lounge menu.

Swedish Hill Winery in Romulus New York is a family run winery which has apparently won 3 Governor’s Cups awards. They boast one of the largest wine selections, from Chardonnay, classic Cabernet Franc, Meritage, Rieslings and Sparkling wines.

Goose Watch Winery is the sister winery to Swedish Hill and is also based in Romulus New York. They have a tasting room, gift shop, offer boat dock and lake access, have premium picnic facilities (great for families) and can take large groups. This very scenic winery overlooks Cayuga Lake where you’ll take in breathtaking views as you sip on their Pinot Grigio, Voignier, Merlot, Lemberger, Cabernet Sauvignon or one of their Finger Lakes specialties, Melody and Traminette or historical varietals, Diamond and Isabella.

Lakewood Vineyards is run by the Stamp family and located on the picturesque western shores of Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen. Their diverse selection of wines and meads have received many awards and medals from around the country.

Penguin Bay Winery is a fun place to stop along the Seneca Lake wine trail in Hector New York. Their wine selections range from dry to sweet red and whites, including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Tuxedo Red and Tuxedo White, as well as a few Moscato’s. They too offer lakeview picnic facilities as well as a gift shop on-site.

Corning New York

I hadn’t been back to Corning in probably 25 years; if I recall, it may have even been a 4H trip to better understand the history and cultural richness of upstate New York. From great food and museums to Corning Glass and delicious olive oil, Corning has it covered. Below is a gem of a find – Crystal City Olive Oil’s original store, which boasts so many different flavors of olive oil and balsamic vinegar that you could easily get stuck in the store for an entire afternoon – oh so yum!

Corning Glass, which the area is most known for, can be found in museums as well as a number of gift shops throughout the town and surrounding area. We found some decadent and creative gems along the main drag and you might be surprised just how reasonably priced they are as well.

You can even watch the glass being blown and learn about the process on your own at museums or take a tour.

Below, an old fashioned country store in Corning New York where you can get homemade ice cream, drink a cuppa coffee while reading the local paper or buy hard candy.

A wine center where you can learn about wine and taste….

There’s also the official Corning Museum of Glass, which has ancient glass art and the ability to make-your-own demos.
Photo credit:
The Rockwell Museumon Cedar Street is famous of course, a renowned place where you can experience Art About America — the people, land and ideas that shape America through the eyes of American artists. Running all summer through mid September is an exhibition that shows the work of Howard Terpning, who is sometimes called the “Storyteller of the Native American.” His realistic paintings are among the most sought after and acclaimed images ever produced of Native American traditions, customs, and history.
Photo credit: Terpning Family Limited Partnership

Watkins Glen New York

Also located on the wine “circuit” is Watkins Glen, which is a pretty little town located on Lake Seneca. We stayed at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel which literally overlooks the harbor and the countless yachts and boats moored here.

Chairs on a deck that overlook the lake. Why not grab a newspaper, a cuppa Joe and curl up on one of these chairs? What a fabulous thing to do on a late August afternoon!

You can walk out onto the rocks as well, which is a fun thing to do.

You can take boat cruises out as well if you don’t happen to have your own yacht in the area that is….

Later in the day as the sky began to become a bit dramatic — below is the view from our hotel room on the top floor.

Shot from our balcony…..

Food, Wine & Beer Lover’s Delight

Every main town and city in the Finger Lakes seems to have no shortage of great eateries and wine bars. Below is a cheese and dried fruit platter at the Graft Wine & Cider Bar on North Franklin Street in Watkins Glen.

Below taken inside my favorite seating area in the Coltivare Restaurant on South Cayuga Street in Ithaca New York. This spot is a fabulous farm-to-fork eatery that serves American dishes plus local wines and beers in rustic-chic surrounds.

The Owego Kitchen in Owego New York.

Ithaca Root Beer in our room at La Tourelle on the outskirts of Ithaca New York.

Chocolate at Life’s So Sweet in Ithaca where they make artisan chocolate that are sustainably and ethically produced.

Be sure to read my Finger Lakes Foodie Guide to get all of our picks from our most recent summer trip. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll even find the legendary Moosewood Restaurant on my list, which is famous for its vegetarian menu and bestselling cookbooks.

Old Barns on the Wine Route

I loved driving by some of the old barns and antiquated homes during our tour around the Lakes region — I’ll let the pictures do the talking!!!

The Watkins Glen State Park

Watkins Glen State Park is located outside the village of Watkins Glen, south of Seneca Lake in Schuyler County in New York’s Finger Lakes region. The park’s lower part is near the village, while the upper part is open woodland. A unique find in upstate New York, this gem of a state park is worth a couple of hours when passing through the Finger Lakes.

The park is the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks and has a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound. Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course. The gorge path winds over and under waterfalls and through the spray of Cavern Cascade. Rim trails overlook the gorge. Campers and day-visitors can enjoy the Olympic-size pool, scheduled summer tours through the gorge, tent and trailer campsites, picnic facilities and excellent fishing in nearby Seneca Lake or Catherine Creek, which is renowned for its annual spring run of rainbow trout.

Creativity in the Oddest of Places

Ithaca is home to Cornell University so it’s no surprise to find students in the streets (even in summer) and eclectic buildings, houses, cafes and shops. I loved the creativity that seemed to prop up in the oddest of places, largely art on walls but oh so beautiful done. Have a look!

Ithaca New York

I have memories of Ithaca from my late teens when I did a Nutrition Course at Cornell as part of a program I was doing with 4H, which was very “alive” in upstate New York. That said, I hadn’t been back to visit Cornell’s campus or take a meander through the town in a couple of decades.

Ithaca now has a ton of great restaurants, cafes and shops and there’s the fairly new award-winning Downtown Ithaca Commons that makes for a fun afternoon walk. It is a four-block pedestrian shopping area with over 100 unique shops, restaurants, street vendors and street entertainers and it is adjacent to both Cornell University and Ithaca College.

Since it was late summer, there was no shortage of beautiful flowers lining the streets with its many front yard gardens, some ornate and some with simple wildflowers that will make you smile. There’s a main drag of restaurants and eateries which they refer to as Restaurant Row — you can dine at the many delicious restaurants, go to a show at the State Theatre of Ithaca or discover the many galleries and artists in Ithaca.

The Commons has a number of events throughout the year as well, including Restaurant Week, Free Summer Concerts in the Ithaca Commons, the Annual Downtown Ithaca Apple Harvest Festival and the Annual Chili Festival and Winterfest.  Below are a few shots I took during my walk.


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